My body is my own
- Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality by G.A. Cohen
Cambridge, 277 pp, £40.00, October 1995, ISBN 0 521 47174 5
At the heart of 19th-century socialism lay a vision of a moral world in which men and women would co-operate freely with one another to meet their common needs, a world in which, therefore, neither vulgar material inducements nor orders from on high were needed to get the work of society done. In Fourier’s Phalanxes an elaborate system of co-operative production was to allow each Harmonian to take on seven or eight different types of attractive work in a single day; similarly, in Marx’s vision of communism, people moved freely between hunting, fishing and raising cattle, and served one another according to the principle, ‘to each according to his needs’; in William Morris’s land of Nowhere, Dick the boatman is puzzled when the narrator attempts to pay for his ride and explains that ‘this ferrying and giving people casts about the water is my business, which I would do for anybody.’
Vol. 18 No. 22 · 14 November 1996
Reading Miller’s Nuffield on Cohen’s All Souls view of the world (LRB, 31 October) reminds me of Gellner’s famous comment on the debate between two anthropologists about the significance of ‘cattle’ among different peoples – ‘there were no cattle!’ Like most of Marx’s predictions about the condition of labour, that regarding increasing immiseration and differentiation still holds – globally as much as within nation-states. For comparisons between the Seventies (and earlier) and the Nineties we have official data regarding the UK (Family Spending, 1996; the Department of Health’s Low Income, 1996) and the US (see Washington post, 14 October 1996 for a comparison of 1974 and 1994). The Oxford dons should also glance at a book published by their own university press: the UN Human Development Report 1996. Data on perhaps the most rapid (Russia) and most massive (China) differentiations of the last 20 years are also widely known. As the Times reported on 16 July 1996, the ‘richest 358 people “own as much as half the world” ’. I shall conclude by reminding the reviewer and the author reviewed – an ontic against their antics – that the condition of labour is an, perhaps the, ecological problem. Selfish cerebration, like hugging the self, butters no parsnips.